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Ornamental Grasses Add a Touch of the Exotic

by Dawn West, All About Lawns Columnist

I don't always follow my own advice. I'll admit it. I told you to tune up your lawnmower in the fall, didn't I? Remember I told you that it would make things so much easier in the spring? I hope you followed my advice and are enjoying spring lawn care with a well-tuned machine. My lawnmower has yet to receive its fall tune-up. I write this at the end of April.

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You have my solemn oath, however, that in the case of the advice regarding ornamental grasses I am about to delve out, I will be taking my own advice. If I do only one thing to my backyard this season, it will be to add some ornamental grass to my landscaping. After doing research for this column, I am stoked to add some lovely and durable ornamental grasses to my yard. Ornamental grasses offer year-round beauty and interest, and a bit of exotic flavor to just about any landscape. Here are three types of ornamental grass that I am considering.

Purple Fountain Grass

Purple fountain grass is identified by its purplish grass with soft feather-like foxtail plumes spouting out the top. Purple fountain grass is gorgeous and exotic, and can be used a space filler. It's good for my area in the high desert because it withstands high temperatures, drought, wind, and acidic or alkaline soils. The purple plumes appear in early summer and make beautiful indoor arrangements. Purple fountain grass prefers moist, well drained soil and full sun, and is not a big water user. It can reach up to five feet tall and will tolerate a little shade.

Maiden Grass

I love the elegant, long arching silvery-green foliage and silvery-white flower heads of maiden grass. Maiden grass has a finer texture than other ornamental grass. It can grow into a large specimen of at least five feet tall and wide. Maiden grass looks gorgeous with a water feature. It flowers in late summer and turns a glistening golden in the fall. This is another grass that can be left long in winter for lovely effect. Aside from its appearance, I like the fact that Maiden grass is a perennial, that its plumes make stunning early fall arrangements, and that it can grow just about anywhere in US.

Zebra Grass


This gorgeous grass brings to mind a windswept day on the coast of Africa. The graceful arching leaves of zebra grass are irregularly barred with golden stripes. I like zebra grass in the early evening in summer when it appears to shimmer. Zebra grass is a fast growing, care-free grass that turns a rich gold in fall that lasts through winter. Perhaps best of all, zebra grass flowers are silvery pink. I'm leaning toward the zebra grass.


All these grasses do well in full sun or a little shade. They will flop over in too much shade, but some people like this effect. Most of these ornamental grasses are perennials in all but the coldest of climates. These grasses are all drought tolerant but also do well in humidity. If you're worried about overgrowth, cut your ornamental grass down in the spring to get full benefit of new green foliage and to keep growth in check.


About the Author
Dawn West B.A. holds a B.A. in English from Harvard University and teaches writing at Oregon State University.

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